Race 1 of the 944 Challenge event at the Shannons Nationals was on Saturday afternoon and the only chance for the fastest runners to lead from the start, with Sundays races consisting of a reverse grid, and then a handicap race to round out the event.
Off the start it was Chris Lewis-Williams who led into Turn 1 after just edging Cameron Beller in the short drag racce off the start, with ROb Holding, Tony Westaway side by side behind them, with Mark Taubitz and Paul Crocitti side by side right behind them as they ran through turns 1 & 2. Michael Westaway was next edging ahead of Dick Howe, with Jim Mitchell in behind them, with Pedr James, Keith Marriner, Manny Mezzasalma and Peter Doherty rounding out the field.
Lewis-Williams and Beller had a small gap while Holding took the inside line to sweep into third position. Taubitz tried to follow him through into turn 4 but had the door firmly shut on him by Tony Westaway – leaving him vulnerable to Crocitti. H0we moved back ahead of Michael Westaway, and then passed Crocitti into turn 9 to take the sixth position.
As the field crossed the line to end lap 1, Beller pulled alongside Lewis-Williams and took the lead under brakes into turn 1, with Holding and Tony Westaway now right behind them. a small gap back to Taubitz, Howe, Crocitti, Michael Westaway, Mitchell, James, Marriner, Mezzasalma and Doherty.
The top three were nose to tail, with Tony Westaway and Taubitz just off the back of the lead trio. Howe and Crocitti continued to battle with Westaway tagging onto the back of the pair. Doherty meanwhile took Mezzasalma for twelfth position.
James was the next driver to make progress, as he moved ahead of Mitchell on lap 3 to take the ninth position.
Lewis-Williams returned serve on Beller at the beginning of lap 4 and took the lead under brakes for turn 1, with Holding continue to shadow the multi-time champions closely. Tony Westaway had a drama in turn 9 and spun the Westbon 944, dropping him all the way to then end of the pack. His spin delayed Taubitz who was right behind, which allowed Howe to spring a move to take fourth position from Taubitz on the run to turn 10.
Marriner was the next one to have issues as he dropped positions at the end of lap 5, allowing Doherty into the top ten, with Mazzasalma to eleventh and Westaway to twelfth as Marriner now re-joined at the back of the pack.
Beller took the lead again as the field commenced lap 6, and this time began to build a small gap to Lewis-Williams, setting the races fastest lap on lap 7 on the way. The battle for fourth position behind them was raging, with Howe defending from Taubitz who was also having to deal with Crocitti behind him, until Crocitti made his way past for fifth position on lap 7. Tony Westaway also moved up another position when he passed Mezzasalma on that lap.
Crocitti made a move on Howe into Penrite corner, and the pair battled fiercely for the next few corners, with Howe ultimately coming off second best when he slid wide as he pulled alongside Crocitti under braking on the outside for turn 10 later in the lap, sending him wide and dropping him back to seventh place behind the pursuing Taubitz and Michael Westaway.
Tony Westaway also made further progress, moving up to ninth passing both Doherty, and then Mitchell, while James had put the hammer down and was reeling off a string of quick times in the 37’s as he chased after the battle for fourth through to seventh position.
At the end it was Beller who won by 2.5 seconds from Lewis-Williams, with Holding an impressive third a further 2.5 seconds back. Fourth position went to Crocitti in an impressive performance with Taubitz right behind him, and Michael Westaway right on his tail, with Howe another second adrift from James, who closed to only a second off of Howe’s tail also.
On the last corner, and Tony Westaway spun, allowing Peter Doherty, who had just passed Mitchell earlier in the lap, through for ninth position, with Mitchell rounding out the top ten. Mezzasalma was eleventh just behind Mitchell in his debut race, with Marriner a few seconds behind. Crossing the line as the final finisher after recovering from his spin was Tony Westaway. With the next race a reverse grid race, questions were asked as to whether Tony was foxing in an attempt to gain the pole position for this race! Tony denied this sheepishly..
Would this starting position prove to work for Tony with Holding, Beller & Lewis-Williams starting off the back?